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International Human Resources from the U.S. To Japan

Japanese corporations, and Japanese culture in general, have become increasingly Westernized over the past several decades. However that does not mean that all of the differences between Japan and the United States have been eradicated. There is still a great deal that the American expatriate needs to know about doing business in Japan before actually embarking on such a venture.

With so many cultural differences, adjustment on the part of the expatriate can be challenging. These stressors can be reduced, however, if the expatriate feels confident that he or she is well versed in the workings of the foreign culture. According to Peltokorpi, V. (2008) "expatriate language proficiency, type, and the personality traits of emotional stability and cultural empathy have a positive influence on both non-work- and work-related adjustment" (p. 1588) Human resource managers are in a unique position to help the expatriation and repatriation process go as smoothly as possible.

One helpful tool that has often been used by human resource managers to identify the differences and bridge the gap between foreign countries attempting to do business with one another is Geert Hofstede's Cultural Classification Theory. This paper will use Hofestede's theory to analyze the opportunities and risks of an expatriate of the PCN company conducting business in Japan.

Hofstede's Cultural Classification Theory

Successfully conducting business in Japan requires HR personnel to conduct a great deal of research into the nature of the business culture, the ethical standards of the country, and the rules of business etiquette, all of which tend to differ significantly from the ones Western managers are used to. This is where Hofstede's Cultural Classification Theory can be particularly helpful.

According to Hofstede, there are five different cultural dimensions that help to determine how a certain culture conducts business, negotiates and deals with conflict. These dimensions are: power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term vs. short-term orientation.

Power distance refers to the accepted level of inequality among the people of a community or nation. There are certain characteristics that tend to go along with high power distance, and there are certain characteristics that are more often associated with low power distance. For example, according to Goodwin (1999) "People in high power distance cultures experience greater uncertainty and anxiety when communicating with people higher in status than do members of low power distance cultures" (p. 26). Furthermore, in high power-distance cultures "subordinates and managers perceive themselves as unequal, and subordinates depend more on the management and are expected to 'do as they are told'. Interpersonal contact between levels of the hierarchy is initiated by superiors" (Goodwin, p. 142).

Goodwin adds that there are numerous factors that can be influenced by high distance power vs. low distance power negotiating styles. For example, low power distance groups are egalitarian in nature and are, in turn, more likely to perceive injustice. High power distance groups, which are hierarchal in nature, are, on the other hand, more likely to legitimize inequality.

According to Hofstede's Power Distance Index, Japan has a higher power distance than the United States, with the former scoring 54 and the latter scoring 40. Therefore, American business leaders need to be formally trained to recognize important cultural differences such as that in Japan, employees are more subordinate to managers than they are in the United States; and that there may be a level of anxiety during communications because of the differences in power distance.

Individualism vs. Collectivism is described by Hofstede as the extent to which individuals feel part of a group and as such, how reliant they are on others for support. One of the most notable problems of style discordance occurs during negotiations between individualist cultures and collectivist cultures. Hofstede explains that in individualist cultures, connections between individuals are tenuous and self-interest eclipses group interest. Individualist cultures promote the designation of goals geared toward bettering the position of oneself or one's family. When these goals conflict with those of their in-groups, they will choose their personal goals. Ties do exist between these autonomous members, however the ties are loosely bound, easily broken, and easily transferred to others.

Collectivist cultures, Hofstede asserts, are the opposite of individualist cultures in that the focus is on the group instead of the individual. In these cultures, the good of the group comes before the good of the individual. Ties between members are strong and there is a collective sense of group pride and responsibility. This can account, for example, for different approaches in market research between the U.S. And Japan -- a topic that comprises a significant part of the expatriate training process.

Japan has become Westernized in numerous ways in the last few decades. Their fashion, their food and even their music has been influenced significantly by the United States and Europe. Japanese corporations, however, have tended to stick with their tried and true formulas; formulas which are obviously working, as Japan is home to some of the largest corporations in the world. Western companies have, in fact, learned a great deal from the Japanese regarding inventory management, organizational structure and work ethic. However one area that the Japanese seem to be reluctant to embrace that they could benefit from considering more seriously is market research. According to Freedland (2003) "Japan and Japanese companies are deeply committed to marketing, and spend millions using it to gain an edge on the competition. When it comes to market research, however, much of the country is left in the dark ages" (para. 3).

In the United States, the significance of doing market research to a company's bottom line is well and widely accepted. Thus it is difficult for many U.S. marketers to fathom why any company would not invest in market research in order to determine the likelihood that their product will succeed. It is also critical to find out what the market is ready for, what it desires and does not desire, and how easily it can be influenced. All of these factors can be determined with market research, but in Japan, it is still not a common practice. This may however be a result of the collectivist culture in Japan, in which outside support, even in the form of market research, is looked down upon.

The purpose of some of the training will therefore be to help the expatriates understand these types of differences, while at the same time, helping them to approach the subject of change without apprehension. For example, rather than simply telling Japanese company leaders that they should engage in market research, they should do some research of their own to find out what the barriers are that are preventing them from making market research a significant part of the marketing strategies. Many American business people are apprehensive about approaching subjects regarding change because the Japanese are known to be so set in their ways. However, when addressed properly, changes such as increased market research can be facilitated. This requires proper training, however, as how to best approach these kinds of situations.

According to Hofstede's Individualism Index, the United States (with a score of 91) is extremely individualistic. There is a general belief in our country that individuals can achieve just about anything they put their mind to if they work hard for it. Japan, on the other hand, ranks extremely low in terms of individualism, scoring only a 46. Therefore it is not surprising that, as Hofstede points out, some of the greatest conflicts occur between these two very different types of cultures.

Masculinity vs. Femininity is not, as it might initially appear, about the way men and women treat each other or are perceived in a particular culture. Hofstede uses these terms to describe the qualities that are generally associated with males (e.g. dominance, power, control) versus the qualities that are generally associated with females (e.g. compassion, nurturing and justice). Therefore, according to Hofstede, a country that rates high on the masculinity scale is going to be one that, for instance, values dominance more than equality, while a country that rates low on the masculinity scale is likely to advocate human rights as opposed to subjugation.

The United States and Japan score very differently on Hofstede's Masculinity Index, with the U.S. ranking a 62 and Japan scoring a 95 -- the highest out of all of the countries on the list. Therefore this is one dimension that is likely to cause a significant amount of conflict between companies from the different nations doing business with one another. This is particularly true considering that competition in the Japanese market is considered to be some of the fiercest in the world. Therefore, expatriate training at PCN will include a significant focus on how to gain a competitive advantage by being responsive to local needs and requirements when engaging in such activities as product and service adaptation, pricing, distribution, advertising and sales promotion, and after-sales service. The expatriates will learn that being more flexible and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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